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Reading program seeking expansion

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State officials and community volunteers are trying to push a popular literacy program into schools in all of West Virginia's school systems.

Right now, Read Aloud West Virginia, which puts volunteers in schools to regularly read a book to their youngest children, is in 22 West Virginia counties. The program, in conjunction with the West Virginia Lions Club, is now making a push to place volunteers in all 55 counties — and, hopefully, in every elementary school in the state.

Read Aloud was founded in Kanawha County in 1987, and is most active here. Twenty-six schools here participate.

But officials would like to see the program reach more children, and hope to see it spread across the state. Now, Read Aloud has teamed up with the West Virginia Lions Read Action Program, which has a nearly identical premise, to help it grow.

The biggest obstacle is a lack of volunteers: the program relies on community members who are willing to dedicate part of their week, ever week, to traveling to a school and reading to a group of students. There's also a training session required by Read Aloud and the state Department of Education for security purposes.

Duane White, with the Charleston area Lions Club, said the plan to combat that is twofold: spread the word about Read Aloud, hoping the premise will compel people to volunteer, and hold an open training session to register as many new volunteer readers as possible.

"Our objective is to get enough interest to cover kindergarten, first and second grade in all the schools, even the private schools," White said.

A special training session will be held Sept. 7 at the Charleston Civic Center — for more information visit readaloudwest

virginia.org.

The idea behind the reading program is to get children interested in books at an early age, when it can inspire a lifelong interest in reading and learning, and have the greatest influence on academic achievement.

Reading becomes a fun activity instead of a chore or a drill like they might experience in their reading lessons at school.

"Students who read in school, they do it because they have to, they don't do it because of enjoyment," White said. "So we're trying to turn that thinking around."

Research consistently shows that children who read for pleasure are more successful in academics — and reading to young children has been shown to spur interest in reading.

This is especially important in West Virginia, where many children are behind the curve in developing reading skills. According to a National Assessment of Educational Progress survey, 8th grade reading test scores in West Virginia fall behind those in 45 other states. The most recent Kids County survey, a regular assessment of child wellbeing in West Virginia, shows that 73 percent of West Virginia's 4th graders are not proficient in reading.

"So many of our kids, by the time they graduate from high they still can't read well and they have a very diff time getting through college if they're even able to get to college," White said. "We're just trying to create an interest and desire to read."  

To volunteer call 304-345-5212 or email readaloud@frontier.com.

Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.maunz@dailymail.com or 304-348-4886.


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